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Wahabbis seek to dethrone Saudi crown prince

By Madhav Nalapat
Wahabbis seek to dethrone Saudi crown prince
A protester holds a picture of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 5. Khashoggi went missing after visiting the consulate. Photo by Sedat Suna/EPA-EFE

Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not like the United States, where abuse of (and by) President Donald Trump is not just commonplace but unpunished. From its inception more than a century ago, any effort (actial or perceived) to kill the king or the crown prince would be replied to with death.

Jamal Khashoggi was on a barely concealed mission to dethrone Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne. He disseminated materials concerning Mohammed that were less than flattering and were instead lurid and gothic.

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Some members of the Al Saud family, motivated by anger at the de-Wahabbization drive initiated by the crown prince in a country founded on the creed, ensured that the Washington Post columnist lived a comfortable li fe in exile. From Turkey and elsewhere, Khashoggi carried on a campaign to remove Crown Prince Mohammed from office (an outcome that would almost certainly cause his death or incarceration, as well).

Assuming that the lurid and gothic reports about the likely death of the Saudi dissident in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul are correct, this would be standard operating procedure for the Saudis in such situations. Given this, there seems to be more than a whiff of hypocrisy in the outrage that is erupting across the globe at what is almost certain to be the assassination of an individual who sought what in Washington is known as "man change," or the removal of a particular leader through measures that cause death.

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In Saudi Arabia, to question the apex of the House of Saud is to be judged guilty of the most toxic form of treason, and few would argue that Khashoggi was not working almost daily for the toppling of the crown prince, the first in his family to challenge and seek to roll back into insignificance the Wahabbi tide that has engulfed Saudi Arabia much before its inception as a modern state in 1932.

Had Khashoggi succeeded, the de-Wahabbization drive led by Mohammed would have collapsed. The same result would ensue were the present global outcry against the crown prince to succeed in its mission of driving him out of office, much to the glee of those members of the Al Sauds who seek the same outcome and who had used the Washington Post columnist as part of the group entrusted with bringing this about.

Certainly the killing of Khashoggi, assuming it took place, was horrible and deplorable. But that hundreds of thousands of innocents have died in wars launched by NATO during just the present century is equally a fact, as has been the rendition by the United States of several terror suspects to countries severely injurious to the health of those sent there through such processes.

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However, once an individual becomes a columnist for the Washington Post, the D.C. Beltway assumes him or her to be an exemplar of liberal values, and it reveals a gap in the planning of al-Qaida that the organization did not seek to somehow get Osama bin Laden installed as a columnist for that venerable (and it must be admitted, eminently readable) newspaper. Had it done so, the aging fanatic may have secured a tenured post on the Harvard faculty as an expert on the sociopathology of violence, rather than get his existence snuffed out by a frenetic bunch of SEALS at Abbottabad, Pakistan, a location that the al-Qaida chieftain clearly felt safe in.

The facts are that Khashoggi is (or was) a cold-blooded Wahhabi ideologue. The followers of Abdul Wahab inculcated a century ago the conviction within substantial segments of the Arab population that the Sufi Turks were infidels and therefore worthy not of respect, but of instant annihilation. With the consolidation of power by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Wahhabism has replaced Sufism as the de facto official theology of the Turkish state, a change that must have made Khashoggi feel very much at ease in a context where his own country, Saudi Arabia, is moving away from Wahhabism into the gentle and compassionate creed revealed through the Prophet Mohammed more than 1,500 years ago.

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Prince Turki, the royal patron of the Saudi Washington Post columnist, is known for his generous backing of groups across the Middle East that regard the beheading of Christians and Shias as the surest path to paradise. All such activities took place under the approving guidance of Khashoggi, who called for retribution in Libya and Syria to those regarded as apostates by Wahhabis (i.e., those who sheltered rather than executed Shias and Christians).

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Ever since the oil price hikes of the 1970s, the Wahhabi International has been gifted hundreds of billions of dollars, especially by Al Sauds such as Prince Turki. Some of that money went into the pockets of scholars, media persons, politicians and officials in the more prominent member states of NATO, principally the United States and the United Kingdom. This extensive and well-funded network has now been activated to ensure that Crown Prince Mohammed gets weakened enough to be removed from his current job. The disappearance of Khashoggi, after he was spotted entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, has become the trigger for a frenzy of lobbying from the many who have over the years fed at the trough of Wahhabi generosity to seek the downfall of the crown prince, who is the successor to King Salman.

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Khashoggi was working with some members of the Saudi royal family to oust the crown prince, and was active in the dissemination of lurid information about the crown prince, who is the first member of the Al Saud family to recognize the existential danger posed to his country by Wahhabis and work to eliminate their influence in the way Gen. Al Sisi (another target of the Washington Post) has carried out against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood makes little secret of the fact that it promotes religious supremacy, the "right" of Wahhabis to impose their control and preferences over the rest of society in any country run by them.

Khashoggi must have seethed at, among other actions, the granting of permission by the UAE to set up a temple in that princely union. Were any other Post columnist to suggest that a church be set up anywhere in the Middle East, it is certain that the D.C. Beltway-certified Saudi exemplar of liberal values would have been horrified, indeed angered, at such effrontery. His passionate views on Israel are known to intimates, including Erdogan, and it is a sore point with such minds that Mohammed has opened the door to normal relations between the country that hosts the holiest of Islamic sites and the tiny sliver of territory that is the only Jewish state in the world.

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Certainly the circumstances surrounding the case of the vanishing Wahhabi seem unsavory. If Khashoggi was done in within the consulate, the amateurishness of the operation must be generating derisive laughter within the Russian FSB, Israel's Mossad or the CIA. It would have been child's play for a "double" with Khashoggi's build to have ambled out of the consulate in a few hours time in his clothes, thereby providing Saudi officials with an alibi. Instead, surveillance cameras that have never malfunctioned in years suddenly went dark. All this is indeed an outrage, and possibly a crime.

However, success for those seeking the removal of Mohammed from power would be a catastrophe for Saudi Arabia.

The only way that country with its youthful population can face a future in which Saudi oil will earn a smaller and smaller premium would be to develop the kingdom as a knowledge and innovation hub, something possible given the natural talent of the Arab mind. The fetters placed on Saudi society by Wahhabis need to be taken off, and this is what the crown prince is doing at considerable personal risk. Khashoggi was engaged in a coup attempt against Mohammed, an effort covertly funded by a few members of the Al Saud family, who seek thereby to ensure that Wahhabism remains all-powerful in their very consequential country. This plan has not yet succeeded, but the hubbub around the disappearance of the Wahhabi columnist is being fueled to ensure that public opinion in the United States and within the EU impels politicians there to work toward the ouster of the crown prince.

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Any reversal of the Mohammed-led effort taking place within Saudi Arabia to de-Wahhabize the country would have harmful consequences for global security. The crown prince is clearly no saint, as some of the materials about him that have been passed around by Khashoggi demonstrate. But Mohammed's continuance in his present office and an avoidance of dilution of his internal authority are needed for success in the ongoing effort within Saudi Arabia to end that country's role as a prime mover in the spread of the Wahhabi International and the numerous side effects of such growth. The "baby" of de-Wahhabisation should not be thrown away with the "bath water" of longstanding and entirely predictable Saudi responses against those openly working to overthrow a Saudi crown prince in a context where the king is of an age and health more parlous than is the case even in Saudi Arabia.

Madhav Das Nalapat is a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University in India.

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